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Drama surrounding OC girls basketball team will continue

Feb. 13, 2009

The senior year of high school basketball should be more rewarding than the way it ended for Oak Creek's Kristen Gilmeister, Kelsey Kochanowski, Stephanie Sherry and Crystal Winkler.

Each had been in the feeder system in Oak Creek for at least three years before reaching high school. None were exceptional players, and only Kochanowski was a starter.

Those who left need to be heard. You will not see anything from Kochanowski, who has a complaint against coach Julie Tyrcha somewhere - presumably - in the district's active file.

I hope the complaint is resolved to the satisfaction of the Kochanowski family.

Back to the girls who can talk.

Leading off: Stephanie Sherry.

Sherry told me she did not play one second in a 71-26 shellacking of visiting Racine Park on Feb. 4. That is beyond belief and absurd.

"I felt like the coach made me feel like I wasn't good enough to be on the team," said Sherry, who left the day after the Park game. "I felt like I wasn't given a fair chance from the beginning. I never got a fair chance.

"I felt like, 'Why should I waste my time?' I'm like the only senior that doesn't get to play, and I could have gotten a job or done something better instead of wasting my time. It's emotionally stressful, and it really tore me down. I couldn't take it any more."

Next: Kristen Gilmeister, who blew out one knee in eighth grade and the other the summer before her sophomore year, but would not let those injuries keep her from playing.

"She (Tyrcha) never saw what I could do, never gave me a chance," said Gilmeister, who decided to leave Jan.15. "It got to the point where it was no fun anymore. I didn't enjoy going to basketball and instead of being a sore teammate, I guess, I got out of it as good as I could."

Gilmeister also said she was thinking of her sister, a freshman who is on the junior varsity, and how she did not want anything to adversely affect her sister.

In the No. 3 spot: Crystal Winkler.

"I've been playing with the team since fifth grade, and we always connected and bonded together and everything," said Winkler, who left Jan. 7. "This year it seemed like everyone was, like, in it for themselves and had all their own little personal problems they were worrying about and didn't really worry about the team."

Before you e-mail or call with your opinion that these girls are whiners, rest your fingers. They deserve to be heard. This is my cyberspace.

Winkler was the last girl I spoke with. Our conversation was lengthier. I asked how much her decision to leave the team might have had to do with sophomores Ashley Luke and Cydney Weisflog getting more playing time. Luke has started all season and Weisflog had been coming off the bench, but is now a starter.

"I was in the running to be starting on the team, and then Ashley Luke outplayed me and got to start," Winkler said. "It didn't really bother me, because I'm not used to playing from every other year. So I got over it.

"I didn't really care. The girls who didn't play and who shouldn't have played were mad about it. But they didn't deserve to play. Ashley Luke deserved to play."

That choice, the choice to make Luke a starter, was made by Tyrcha. Nothing wrong with that choice.

What has been wrong is how Tyrcha has handled the often high-maintenance job of coaching a varsity sport. This is what I tell every coach I speak with for the first time at the seven schools I am responsible for reporting on: Coaching has never been harder, it gets harder every day, and it will never get easier. I have recently amended that to include everyone involved. It is harder for everyone - coaches, administrators, participants and parents.

"Tyrcha got handed a hard spot, because we're a bunch of girls with so much drama," Winkler said. "It's hard for her, too. I feel bad for her."

Me, too, to an extent.

Tyrcha was not ready for the job when she took it in 2007. It is not her fault. I do not think she had any idea what she was in for.

She is not dealing well with the pressure of coaching. For instance, her edict that the players not talk to the media after the Feb. 10 loss at Muskego is simply petty. That is a sign she does not trust her team.

I understand why Tyrcha would not talk after the game. I had to raise my voice to get her to acknowledge a question and get a shake of her head as a response. It has to do with the complaint. I get it.

There is always going to be drama of some kind in sports, be it pee wees, pros or anything between. What we have here is a serious situation between the coach and Kochanowski, and a less serious situation with players who were not able to contribute as they hoped and a coach who could not make those players feel important.

Good players will get treated differently from players who have roles to fill. The trick is to make each individual feel good.

Not easy.

I received an e-mail from the parent of a current player who disagreed with the tone of my report in the Feb. 12 Oak Creek NOW. She told me in a conversation she believed Tyrcha was doing a good job. She said other parents believed that to be true.

This parent was at the Feb. 5 meeting at which principal Paul Sigler said Tyrcha would not be the varsity coach next season. The parent said captains Victoria Cruz and Jenn Deptula asked the parents to step back and let the players play and have fun. Good for them.

The parent said the captains backed the coach. Of course they back the coach. Who named them captains?

And now, the elephant in the room.

Some ill will remains from the removal of Ken Kujawa as coach in 2007. It is easy to say, "Move on. Get over it. He's not coming back."

True.

But …

When principal Paul Sigler and district director of personnel/human resources Paul Vance, in early July 2006, told Kujawa he would be retained for one more season after some players and parents voiced concerns about his coaching style, they started their own drama that remains in progress. This all lands back at the feet of Sigler, who is said to have made the final call on the new coach.

So the drama continues to play on the court and off the court. The drama will not stop when the season ends. A new coach needs to be hired. But he or she will, according to Sigler, have Tyrcha on the staff.

What fool would accept that arrangement?

If Sigler made the choice on the coach last time, is there any reason to believe he will not this time? The choice, after input from the proper people, should be made by the athletic director, not the principal.

Jerry Karpowicz can be reached at (262) 446-6628.

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